When I was young I rarely engaged in sports. A fat kid who bruised easily, the only time I broke a sweat is when I leaned too close to the toaster oven waiting for my pizza bagels. I was so fat my parents had to rub Vaseline on my thighs to keep them from chaffing. I wish I had not just written that. But I have a Lithuainian computer so there is no “Delete” key and instead of “Enter” it says “You Like?”
At Christmas, as I sat holding the brand new baseball mitt I knew I’d never use, my greedy, coveting eyes trained on my sister’s freshly unwrapped Easy Bake Oven. Oh the brownies I could make with that, I thought.
In instances, like recess, when forced into outdoor activity I drew toward the foursquare or tetherball courts. Low impact games, or girly games, as they were also known. But my date with the ladies was never to be because I’d inevitably get called over to play football. The other boys mistook my girth for athletic prowess. At that time in human history there was a football player named William “The Refrigerator” Perry who was famously fat. Thanks to The Fridge, little boys all over the country confused corpulence with ability. It was my job to disabuse them of this notion. Besides having no speed or coordination, my biggest obstacle in football was catching the ball and my complete lack of desire to do so. Whenever a ball came hurling toward my face I automatically (and rather healthily, I think) swatted it away. Often this swatting motion was accompanied by a high-pitched, involuntary squeal of unbridled fear like “Meep!” Soon enough the other boys stopped picking for their teams and discontinued associating to me in general.
Worse than football was a little something called “Smear the Queer.” If you are not familiar with this delightful pastime, please allow me the honor of introducing it to you. The game begins with a cluster of boys. I know it would be P.C. to say a “cluster of boys and girls,” but let me just say, ladies, I am giving your sex credit by leaving you out of this. Besides, once we are talking about a game called “Smear the Queer,” I think we can throw any pretense of political correctness out the window. To continue, you have this cluster of boys. In the middle of this huddle there is a ball. All eyes watch this ball with great intensity. Finally, one boy swoops in and snatches it. This lucky devil has become the “queer.” Now the only goal of all the rest of the boys is to “smear”–i.e. tackle, pile on and beat the holy hell out of–the queer. What’s more, the primary goal for the boy with the ball is to hang onto the ball and endure as much punishment as possible. There is no other reward for the queer other than getting crushed beneath a squirming mass of boys. Don’t you just love a game that is both homophobic and homoerotic at the same time? Eventually the ball is given up. Another lad dashes by to yank it and, viola, a new queer is born.
Smear the Queer has no system of scoring. It is not a game you can win. The only purpose of the game is to settle vendettas and prove you are the baddest schoolyard brawler. And for this reason, I was everyboy’s Everest. To take down the tallest, fattest beast on the field would be a real accomplishment, a triumph. However, if you have ever had the pleasure of tackling me (and why wouldn’t you) you would know that I crumple like a grocery receipt. I just want to be agreeable. If what you want most is to wrestle me to the ground, why not let the baby have his candy? As much as I tried to avoid being the queer, boys constantly threw the ball directly at me, itching to take fatty down. No matter how I ran from the ball, now and then I’d catch the thing inexplicably by accident. It would nestle sleepily into my unwitting arms, and then came the gnashing.
So, no, I didn’t care for sports much. Had you met my thinner, teenage self he would have told you that sports are nothing more than a mindless, brutish distraction. Of course, while saying that I would have been wearing a snug turtleneck, matching black beret and sipping espresso from a cup small enough for Barbie’s Dream House, so you would have punched me in the gut.
Now, I’ll watch just about any kind of game even though I don’t entirely know what’s going on. Beneath the statistics, jargon and convoluted rules there is something at the core of sports that attracts me: passion with out consequence. Real life is filled with all the foibles of trying and falling short. Sports give you the ability to pour your heart and soul into something you have absolutely no control over. You can get swept up in the mania of the game but always safely know that in the end you are not responsible for the outcome. Of course, don’t tell that to the Cowboys fan who dons silver and blue face paint when he’s watching the game at home. Sports fandom is a kind of real world Valhalla where Packers fans and Bears fans can come together and vicariously beat the living tar out of each other. The winners rejoice like they actually accomplished something and the losers grow back limbs and heal their wounds in time for next Sunday. Plus, sports are great because is there anything more relaxing than watching other people work hard? So if I come to your house to watch a game, please do not judge me too harshly for are we not both engaged in that time-honored tradition of watching stuff instead of doing stuff. That, I believe, is a language we can all understand.